Beethoven
Symphonies
  • No.3 in E flat (Eroica)
  • No.5 in C minor
  • No.7 in A
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti
CD No: DECCA 467 679-2 (2 CDs)
Duration:
Reviewed: June 2001
Symphonies 5 and 7 were taped in 1958. As documents of early-stereo recordings, both impress in terms of boldness, clarity and impact. There is a brighter, more aggressive edge to louder passages than ideal; this complements, less than judiciously, Solti’s high-wire presentation that is resistible in its for-the-moment crudely-sounded conducting. In neither work does Solti get beneath their skins, offering something undeniably energetic and bold, but organic and varied traversals these are not. The Fifth’s slow movement is curiously flaccid; the Seventh is too self-consciously moulded. A lack of overall poise attenuates that these are searing readings that are too constantly intense to ensure a satisfying resolution. Only the finale of No.7 has the sort of consideration that would have been welcome elsewhere.
Now the good news – No.3, from May 1959, is in a different league. Indeed, it’s one of the Eroica’s great recordings. I’ve not heard any of these Solti tapings before, so I wasn’t expecting him to repeat the first movement’s exposition (I hadn’t checked movement timings before listening). Such things rarely happened during this period. That said, Erich Kleiber’s VPO/Decca Eroica from a few years earlier had also observed it (he hadn’t in his 1950 Concertgebouw version – DECCA 467 125-2). In the interim, 1957, Pierre Monteux had made yet another VPO Eroica for Decca and not repeated (he did though eschew Hans von Bulow’s first movement emendation, which Solti, like most conductors, was happy to play). Incidentally, Willem Mengelberg was the first to record this repeat on his 1930 New York Philharmonic 78s (he didn’t play it in Amsterdam later), which is on a Biddulph CD (WHL 020); Solti, in this present release, otherwise takes only the repeat in 5 (i).
In his 1959 Eroica, Solti impresses in the way he channels all his energy and power into the music itself: there is, unlike in 5 and 7, an inner potency about the music’s evolution and resolution. Energy should not be mistaken for speed - Solti’s spacious traversal of the first movement places him closer to Klemperer in his concern for architecture (and more searching than Toscanini’s bluster); Solti’s structural integration is a world-away from Furtwangler’s freedom.
Having already recorded 5 and 7, Solti’s relationship with the VPO appears to have now deepened. Instead of imposing a visceral excitement, he galvanises a focussed response through self-control and musical authority. This is an Eroica that teems with incident - clean detail, keen accents, carefully blended colours and thoughtfully weighted attack. Solti’s sense of drama and his long-term thinking equate to an operatic-tinged, purposeful sense of direction. The funeral march has real gravitas, the scherzo is nimble and athletic (the horn-dominated trio is puckishly rendered) and the finale is exhilarating. Solti dominates this Eroica in the right way – the music and the music-making is alive and compelling.
The recording is also outstanding – with a sense of perspective and presence that one craves and misses in many DDD releases. Detail is vivid, tangible even; there’s plenty of rosiny bass heft - the sound is dynamic both in volume and in taking the listener direct to the Sofiensaal.
I’m inclined to say that for the Eroica alone this is a five-star recommendation, especially as 2-CD Legends sell at mid-price times one-and-a-half - effectively a twofer.

 

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